Three project management tips for software developers

As a software developer, you will sooner or later lead a software development project. Of course it would be nice and ideal to relegate the responsibility of project management to a dedicated project manager — but not all of us are afforded that luxury. And let’s face it: many of us rather be heads down designing the software or writing the actual code. That being said, if you find yourself in a situation in which you need to manage a project, here are a few tips.

Write down notes during every meeting and send them out

During every meeting (related to the project), take down notes. Capture who said what, what did they promise, and when will they deliver that promise. I personally find this difficult because I don’t want to feel like I’m micromanaging or stepping on people’s toes. But really, we’re just communicating and the lack of communication a major contributor to failed project.

Another reason why I think sending an e-mail once the meeting ends is that keeps others (and ourselves) accountable, partiallyu due to the Hawthorn Effect, which suggests that some people work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment (Source: verywellmind).

Create a work plan and share your estimates with others

I hate estimating my tasks. Because more often than not, my estimates are off — sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot — due to hidden assumptions. That being said, there are ways to improve the accuracy of your estimates.

As humans, we tend to be overly optimistic, assuming that everything will go according to plan. But I recommend a different approach. Be a pessimist. Assume everything will go wrong. Then, after playing devil’s advocate, find the middle (realistic) ground. And if want to take it even further, acknowledge your estimation biases and use formal techniques for mitigating those biases.

Stop searching for the the perfect project management tool

Although I wholeheartedly agree that having the right tool for the right job is important, I’ve reached the conclusion based off of my own personal experiences that when I’m constantly hunting for the perfect project management software (e.g. Microsoft Office Project, OmniPlanner) I’m really just procrastinating.

So, start off simple. Just do a brain dump. Write every task down — lay it all out. Type all the tasks in Microsoft Word or Notepad if you have to. But get it out of your brain. Then, for each task, include the name of the task, a one to two sentence description, an estimate in days, the risks (i.e. low, medium, high), and the dependencies for that task. No need to go overboard and write down an entire novel. Again — strike a balance.